Tanzania: At a Crossroads - Why Embrace the 'Prevention Is Better Than Cure' Advice


It is very uncommon for people that I know, to visit the doctor when they are not sick. For most adults that I know, they will go to hospital when they are not sick only when they need a clean bill of health certificate maybe needed to join a college or a job with a new institution. Or for an HIV test, when one is in a serious relationship and/or wants to get married, or when one is pregnant.

It is only the children below five that we regularly take to hospital for the normal monthly clinics. Even for the children's clinics, it took many years for Tanzania parents to finally embrace it as normal. And it has gone a long way in decreasing child mortality rates! Mind you the government offers the service for free, yet there are a few parents who don't take the kids for clinic as needed!

I am musing about these things after reading a story in our favourite newspaper, The Citizen, published on Dec 11, 2019, about free cancer screening for Dar es Salaam. It urged people to embrace preventive health. This includes regular check-ups and seeing doctors when we are not sick.

This is a tall order as our notion is that hospitals are for the sick. And in fact hospitals and medical practitioners concentrate so much on treatment, which is all vital, but sadly, there is neglect of preventive health campaigns. The masses are left out with limited know how, and no wonder, the failure at times to tame communicable disease, lifestyle diseases, etc.

But then, it's not only doctors and people in medicine that should be preaching about embracing preventive health, it should be a public domain subject, taken seriously, from individual, family, society to national levels. That way, we can prevent many diseases.

There is an old saying "prevention is better than cure" and it is a time tested mantra. Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge, once said that 'if everyone runs, the world would be a better place." He meant that many diseases that put humans down can be prevented by keeping fit.

Exercise, being physically active is one way of keeping good preventive health. But in this age of the motorcars, in towns, we have many people who walk very little and mostly they are immersed in their white collar jobs. Most of their time, they are seated, eyes glued to their computer screens. When they leave office, they get into their cars! Years later, lack of physical activity, makes their body weak and unable to fight diseases.

While urging city residents to come out in large numbers for free breast and prostate cancer screening, a not for profit, Associazione Ruvuma Onlus (Tanzania), informed that preventive health care "can stop some conditions from developing or find them early before they become life-threatening." The NGO is very right. We should go for annual health check-ups. Also this includes how we eat- balanced diet, age wise related diet and keeping physically fit

Most cancer researchers indicate that if the condition is detected in early stages, about 80 percent of patients can be cured. Unfortunately, when detected too late, cancer treatment becomes difficult /impossible. Such patients are placed under palliative care, to wait for their last day on earth. It's really depressing.

As a nation we have in place a National Cancer Control Strategy (NCCS) (2013-2022) which has been guiding, coordinated national responses to cancer. I think considering the rising number of cancer cases, it would be worthwhile to think of specific policy for cancer prevention and control. It is scary to read how in Kenya aflatoxins have lead to great rise in cancer cases, very scary. Nowadays, cancer in Africa has become a leading killer.

Saumu Jumanne is an Assistant Lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE)

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